When fans and supporter groups pushed for more of a say at their clubs on the back of the Super League fiasco, this wasn’t quite what they had in mind.
Clubs across the world have been announcing partnerships with Socios, the fan token platform that uses the Chiliz cryptocurrency and blockchain infrastructure.
These clubs include Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Milan and Man City.
The platform is promoted as a fan engagement tool — something that allows supporters to have a say in certain aspects of their club, but the reality is much different and comes with side effects some fans may not be aware of.
Supporters of the English clubs to have partnered with Socios — Leeds, Everton, Arsenal and City — have, to varying degrees, voiced their concerns about the platform and the idea that it is monetising fan engagement.
We recorded a Patreon episode about Socios with @uglygame but decided it's too important a topic to restrict to our subs so you can now listen to it on our free-to-air feed. At this point, we usually say "Enjoy!" but there's not much to enjoy here…https://t.co/fuJ4tZTbvt
— All Stats Aren't We (@AllStatsArentWe) August 13, 2021
The Leeds United Supporters Trust released a statement after their club’s partnership was announced, noting that in getting involved in Socios: “Fans will be obliged to enter into a cryptocurrency ecosystem; something which many may have very little knowledge of.”
“We are very pleased that the partnership between West Ham and Socios has ended. We hope that another fan exploitation scheme [of this nature] is never introduced at our club.”
Though there are no signs of Liverpool getting on board with Socios at this stage, it’s something the club would do well to continue to steer clear of.
Instead, they should look to use existing supporter infrastructures, such as the supporters’ union Spirit of Shankly and the club’s own global membership system to support the fans and help them have a say in certain matters.
The word socios itself is used in Spanish football to describe the members of a club. Barcelona is one example of a club controlled by its members — the socios — who are able to vote on various issues, most pertinently on who is appointed club president.
This word has been somewhat hijacked by this fan engagement and trading platform, using an existing word that describes a form of supporter involvement to further disguise the other side of their platform.
On signing up for Socios there is an initial disclaimer which states that “$CHZ [the crypto abbreviation used for Chiliz] and Fan Tokens do not represent financial instruments or any form of investment product. They are meant to be used for entertainment and fan experience purposes only.”
But the fluctuation of the value of the various fan tokens shows all the hallmarks of financial trading and especially the more volatile nature of cryptocurrency trading.
One obvious example of this was the value of Atletico Madrid’s fan tokens around last season’s La Liga title win.
Rather than continue to increase in value as they were about to secure the title, there was a large drop off as traders looked to sell at peak value.
This was highlighted in more detail in this thread by Martin Calladine, who has been investigating Socios relationship with football since they first emerged on the scene.
The price of token started the week at a little over 100 Chiliz, rising to about 140 on the Saturday morning. They then rose further as the game got under way. But, rather than peaking after the win, they peaked at nearly 190 Chiliz when the game was about 70 minutes in. pic.twitter.com/UJPF3XJ4XN
— Martin Calladine (@uglygame) May 24, 2021
Even the Socios app itself displays information in the way a stock exchange might, listing the value of the tokens and displaying charts showing the fluctuations in price:
In theory, if these tokens are being bought solely by fans of a club there should be little fluctuation. A steady increase would be expected as membership numbers go up and as more people adopt the platform. After all, it’s rare that someone will simply stop being a fan of their club and sell such a membership.
The fact that so many tokens are being sold at certain points is one of the most obvious indications that fans are just a percentage of those holding the coins.
Football’s relationship with money is a longstanding problem that continues to worsen, mirroring the wider world but in its own hyper-capitalist bubble. From gambling sponsorship to ownership issues, everything is for sale, often regardless of who the buyer is and what they are promoting.
The issues around football clubs bearing the name of gambling sponsors have been widely discussed and it could reach a stage where there are similar discussions around encouraging fans to invest in crypto, which itself carries financial risk.
It might have gone unnoticed that Liverpool already has a partnership with an online trading broker called ThinkMarkets. They are an online brokerage firm for forex, shares, indices, precious metals, commodities and cryptocurrency.
So Liverpool already has a link to cryptocurrency trading but it is presented transparently and simply as what it is — an online trading and investment platform. There is no disguising it and fans are not being reeled in under false pretences.
Football at the top level has already accepted partnerships with financial companies and more controversially, gambling partners.
In this case, the club is clear that this is a partnership with an investment company and its presence might remain confined to the more corporate areas of the club’s work.
Conversely, the problem at clubs who have partnered with Socios is that it is presented as fan engagement, whereas in truth that fan engagement is effectively just a set of bonuses coming on the back of purchasing, or investing in, cryptocurrency.
It is cryptocurrency trading masquerading as fan involvement. The presence of the loyal fan provides a small amount of stability but the value will fluctuate largely based on the actions of traders who aren’t fans.
There have been several news reports in the mainstream media looking at how influencers can cause a rise or fall in the value of a cryptocurrency.
A headline in the Independent that read; ‘Floki crypto price surges 250% after Elon Musk gets new dog’, highlights how otherworldly this stuff can seem when planted among more mainstream, familiar news.
In the case of Socios, the influencers are the clubs — what better influencer than an entire football club and its army of loyal supporters.
As a report in the Athletic highlighted, most of the chatter around these club coins does not come from fans, but from the other group of investors — the cryptocurrency traders.
The Athletic’s report also pointed out that the decisions fan token holders are able to participate in “do not appear to be about issues that fans are generally passionate about, such as transfer deals or match tactics. Rather, many of the votes seen by The Athletic focus on seemingly trivial matters such as in-stadium music choices or social media designs.”
The desire for increased supporter involvement tends not to revolve around wanting a say in transfers or tactics and is more a question of retaining club values, supporter links and club culture through off-field decisions.
The Socios platform would be even more of a problem if it was able to influence on-field decisions and transfers. After all, there is nothing stopping fans from purchasing tokens of clubs they don’t support and having a say in the various votes.
The Football Supporters Association, which represents supporters in England and Wales, have already spoken out against Socios.
Speaking to the i newspaper, their chief executive Kevin Miles said: “It’s disappointing to see clubs attempting to monetise fan engagement with cryptocurrency — supporter engagement should be free and democratic, recognising the value of independent supporter organisations.
“There should be no financial barriers to engaging with your football club and the FSA will be speaking to supporter groups and our members at
Clubs’ partnerships with finance companies warrant deeper discussion as part of the wider issue of football’s relationship with capital and how it affects fans, but these partnerships are usually transparent.
Liverpool, after all, have the name of a bank on the front of their shirts — Standard Chartered — and have commercial partnerships with financial companies such as ThinkMarkets and Alexbank.
Socios, however, regardless of disclaimers around what the fan tokens are intended to be used for, still feels misleading.
It doesn’t seem to stop crypto traders from treating it simply as an opportunity to make money, driving the price of tokens up or down for genuine fans.
There is plenty of work to do to repair football’s relationship with its supporters, especially at the top level. Even though new technology may play a part in this further down the line, a platform like Socios shouldn’t.